Gritty Griffins grind out a set, but passing game holds them back in Game 1 loss to Cascades

Alyshia Bryks bumps a ball against UFV on Friday while Mariah Bereziuk and Ella Black look on (Jordie Arthur photo).
Alyshia Bryks bumps a ball against UFV on Friday while Mariah Bereziuk and Ella Black look on (Jordie Arthur photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Run off balance by a strong-serving, brick wall blocking UFV Cascades team, the MacEwan Griffins turned to their gritty defensive play to make a match out of it in Game 1 of their Canada West quarter-final series on Friday night.

It got them a set, but ultimately wasn't enough to overcome a languishing passing game in a 3-1 defeat (25-20, 25-15, 24-26, 25-19).

The Cascades lead the best-of-three series 1-0. Game 2 is Saturday (7 p.m. MT, Canada West TV).

MacEwan's signature moment of the match was a strong defensive performance to take the third set 26-24 on the backs of their ability to extend plays over and over.

"It was a great gritty set on our part," said MacEwan head coach Chris Wandler. "We had to expend a whole heck of a lot of energy in that third set just to extend the match and that really kind of showed in the fourth set. 

"We just didn't have enough emotional energy to pursue the match."

Mariah Bereziuk led the Griffins with 12 kills and tied the program record for most points by a Griffin in a Canada West playoff game with 16.5, but she hit just .025 in attacking percentage – a microcosm of MacEwan's overall inefficiency as they averaged .007 as a team (their second-worst mark of 2023-24). 

Mariah Bereziuk, who finished second in Canada West in kills/set during the regular season, tied a program record for the most points in a CW playoff match with 16.5 on Friday (Jordie Arthur photo).

That was a direct product of UFV's service line play as the Cascades had multiple runs and recorded eight aces, forcing the Griffins into predictable attacking situations where they were able to use a size advantage at the net to produce 24 block assists.

The Attieh sisters led UFV's efforts as Gabrielle had 14 kills, Talia 12 and Lauren 11. Setter Cailin Bitter produced 34 assists, while Natalie Crews added nine blocks with both of them being difference-makers at the service line, keeping the Griffins off balance all night.

"We didn't pass the ball that well, so it was really hard for us to run any of our offence," said Wandler.

"We should be better on that first contact tomorrow."

Kara Frith had five kills and five blocks in the middle, finishing with the Griffins' top efficiency (.231), while Alyshia Bryks chipped in seven kills and 11 digs. Payton Shimoda finished with 27 assists.

And it wouldn't be a playoff game for the MacEwan women's volleyball program without one of their starters missing. Four years ago – their last trip to the post-season – they were forced to play without top outside hitter Lauren Holmes when she was hurt. And on Friday, they had to make due without star libero Bronwyn Ettinger, who came down with an illness. 

Madison Hoppus and Ella Black filled in admirably in a two-libero spot start.

"That was another little adjustment," said Wandler. "Ella was first contact-receive part and Mady was on the defensive part. That was a little different for us, too. Kudos to them. They did a heck of a job in that role. 

"It was a little bit of an adjustment, but I didn't think it overly played as big a factor as our ability to pass a better ball for Payton to run the offence."

MacEwan started the match guns a blazing, established a 14-7 lead before the Cascades found their footing and went on a 12-1 run to seize control of the opening set. They finished it off Lauren Attieh's tip off the block.

The Griffins were in Set 2 at the beginning, finding themselves tied 8-8 before UFV served them out of system and had multiple blocks to go on another 12-1 run. The Cascades were on cruise control, ending it on a Mo Likness kill in the middle.

"Especially the second set our heads weren't in it when we had an opportunity to continue a play," said Wandler. "We just took free swings, and they had good hands across the net and blocked us. (In the third) were just a little smarter with our play."

MacEwan led the whole way in Set 3, showing resilience, endurance, and brilliance, holding off UFV's rally until the Cascades finally caught them right at the end to take a 24-23 lead. But Gabrielle Attieh hit it wide on match point before Wandler brought on serving sub Danielle Jodoin. She put UFV out of system twice with Frith ending the set by slamming an over-bump off the block and out.

"It wasn't necessarily an adjustment," said Wandler of Set 3. "We started to defend a little bit better, and we served the ball with a little bit more purpose according to our game plan. That led to some more opportunity for us."

And that's something they can build off of for tomorrow.

"Oh yeah, knowing that if we pass the ball just a few percentages better that we can run some offence, and give us a whole heck of a lot more confidence," said Wandler. "I thought for the most part, our defensive part of the game – the scrambly, gritty part of it – has been there for quite a while. 

"It's just whether we can phase together all components of our game – the serve game, the pass game, the defend game – to really put pressure on good teams like Fraser Valley."